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Vandals break into Thessaloniki Jewish cemetery

ATHENS, Greece (JTA) — Vandals broke into the Jewish cemetery in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, causing minor damage.

The vandals cut through the fence of the cemetery and, once inside, smashed some vases and ornaments and knocked over several headstones and plaques, David Saltiel, president of the Thessaloniki Jewish community, said Friday.

Police had been to the scene and were investigating, he said.

The incident comes after the release of an Anti-Defamation League survey showing that Greece has Europe’s highest rate of anti-Semitic attitudes, with 69 percent of Greeks espousing anti-Semitic views. That’s nearly twice the rate as the next highest country, France, where the rate was 37 percent.

Thessaloniki was a vital center of Sephardic Jewry for 450 years following the expulsion from Spain. Known as the “Flower of the Balkans,” it was the center of Ladino culture in the region.

Thessaloniki’s Jewish community was largely destroyed in the Holocaust. Most of the city’s 55,000 Jews were deported to death camps, and fewer than 2,000 survived.

Its old cemetery was destroyed by the Nazis and now forms part of the land on which the Aristotle University campus was built.

Greek Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos condemned the vandalism as a “repulsive act” and a “blatant act of anti-Semitism.” Venizelos promised the Jewish community that the Greek authorities would do their utmost to find and arrest the vandals.

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